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Should schools have a school uniform?

The pros and cons of a school uniform

3 min read
  • The science of learning

82% of state schools in the UK specify that their students must wear a school uniform.

However, despite this large majority, the debate as to whether school uniforms serve a purpose or not still remains rife. So that we can objectively consider each side of the argument, current research can be helpful in telling us about the positive and negative impact of school uniforms – and whether they should indeed be a requirement.

The benefits of school uniforms

Create a sense of belonging

The clothes that someone wears can often be used to reflect their status, which can bring some problems and create differences. However, research has shown that students all wearing the same clothes removes the pressure that they feel to dress in a ‘cool’ way. Instead, it can help create a sense of belonging and unity, which can help form a school community.

Improve student discipline

Research has found that students who were forced to wear a uniform, in comparison to those who did not, were found to listen significantly better, had lower noise levels and lower teaching waiting times. This resulted in teachers having to spend less time disciplining their students, which meant they were able to focus their efforts on creating a positive teaching and learning environment instead.

School uniforms were also found in some cases to improve student attendance in secondary education, whilst they generated a significant increase in teacher retention in primary schools.

Ensure appropriate clothes are worn

Recent research has identified that, when schools do not enforce a uniform policy, students often tend to wear inappropriate clothes.

Furthermore, not having a uniform can cause students to spend a significant amount of time choosing what to wear and getting ready in the morning, meaning that they potentially miss out on vital sleep. Research found that 88% of parents thought that having a uniform made it easier for their child to get ready in the morning, whilst only 8% disagreed.

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The potential downside to school uniforms

Dampen creativity

Recent research found that having a school uniform can limit student’s freedom to express themselves. When all students are forced to dress in a particular way or in particular clothes, they are no longer able to celebrate their individuality and have less opportunity to experiment with new ideas.

No impact on achievement

Using a huge sample of students and two different sources of data, recent research concluded that there is little evidence which conclusively demonstrates that uniform improves achievement in schools. After controlling prior year test scores, family and school characteristics, the researchers found that wearing a school uniform did not have a significant impact on students’ performance in maths and reading tests, as well as in science and history exam results.

Can create economic hardship

A recent survey, conducted by the Children’s Society, found that the average cost of uniform for a child at secondary school is £337. Having to spend such a significant amount of money on uniform that is often only available from specialist shops is placing a serious financial strain on many families. Nearly a quarter of parents admit that the high cost of uniform has meant their child has to wear an ill-fitting one.

Final thoughts

Current research does not present any conclusive evidence as to whether uniform has a positive or negative impact on students’ school experience. It seems that there may in fact be no clear answer to this question.

If prices are low and it helps create a sense of pride and school community, then evidence suggests they can be a force for good for schools.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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